Thursday, May 18, 2006 | 8:51 a.m.
Forget about Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak, Bob Gibson's 1.12 earned-run average in 1968 or Cy Young's 511 career wins. If you really want an amazing baseball statistic, consider the Las Vegas 51s began the season with not one but two French-speaking catchers from Quebec.
Russell Martin - or Mar-TAN, if you're Quebecois - has already been called up by the Dodgers. That leaves Eric Langill as the 51s' resident expert on all things Canadian and Ca-nade-i-ENNE, as in the hockey team he followed with a passion as a youngster.
Before lumbering out for batting practice at Cashman Field, Langill explained why a kid who grew up idolizing Guy Lafleur in the shadow of the Montreal Forum is now doing a Gary Carter impression just off the Las Vegas Strip.
I was stunned to learn the 51s had two French-speaking catchers. That's like finding two surfers in Minneapolis. I'm assuming that yours and Russell Martin's paths crossed long before you were teammates at Double-A Jacksonville last year?
Yeah. We played for the same junior team in baseball. We usually followed each other on the same team. But (when they were younger) he was a third baseman.
And you've always been a catcher?
I was a catcher the whole time. My running skills aren't too good. The funny thing is, a lot of the Quebec guys (baseball pros) are catchers. It's almost like hockey with goaltenders. It seems like they like being part of the action.
Ah, I was wondering how long it would take a guy from Montreal to mention hockey. The over-under was two questions.
I started (playing hockey) young on the cheese-cutters. You know, skates with two blades. I was still playing junior hockey when I went to junior college, but then I had a chance to go play (pro) baseball.
I guess there weren't a lot of hockey arenas in Des Moines, where you played JC ball. That must have been culture shock for a kid from Montreal.
Big-time. Iowa is a strange place. A lot of cornfields. You can find a lot of trouble there because you can get bored.
So how does a hockey player from Montreal wind up reading pork bellies futures?
In Montreal, we don't have high school baseball like you guys. We had hockey and rugby and that's about it. There's only one school that has high school baseball and you have to pay to go there. During the summer, I played baseball. I liked it a lot, but I wasn't sure I was going to go far in it.
Well, Iowa is pretty far from the Basilique Notre Dame (Notre Dame Basilica) and the Musee des Beaux-arts (Montreal Museum of Fine Arts).
I could have followed (Dodgers closer) Eric Gagne to Seminole Junior College in Oklahoma but ...
Say no more. You made the right choice. Back to hockey. You are built like a goalie. Was that your position?
No. Center. Second line. I was a face-off specialist.
But you didn't quite become the next Guy Lafleur.
That's what I grew up wanting to be. I wanted to be a hockey player. I didn't want to be a baseball player. Kids here dream about playing in the seventh game of the World Series. Kids where I'm from dream about playing in the seventh game of the Stanley Cup Finals.
Did you go to Canadiens games as a kid?
Always. I've seen games at the Forum and the new Bell Center.
Ah, the Forum. I'm envious. But I heard they gutted the place.
Yeah, it's a movie theater now. It's got all these video games. But it was amazing to see a hockey game there. I'd get together with a bunch of friends and we'd jump on a metro train to St. Catherine Street. Any time the Canadiens were playing, it was amazing. Especially on Saturday night.
My favorite Canadien was Yvan Cournoyer. Or anybody named Tremblay. But those guys are old enough to be your grandfather. Who was your favorite?
Growing up, I always liked Patrick Roy. Nowadays, I like Alex Kovalev.
What about Radek Bonk? Did you know he started his career in Las Vegas, with the Thunder of the International Hockey League?
He didn't do much for the Canadiens this year. Funny you mention him. He has dogs and he (boards) them at my father's kennel. But my dad wouldn't make him pay.
It's not like he couldn't afford it. He didn't even give your old man hockey tickets?
That's usually what happened. We'd get on my dad a little bit, saying this guy is making $2 million a year and he can't put the puck in the net. Get something from him.
What about the Expos? Did Gary Carter have dogs?
I used to sneak into Olympic Stadium because we worked in the restaurants there. That was when they had Larry Walker, Pedro (Martinez), (Andres) Galarraga and all those guys. That's when I started to like the game.
I guess you owe a lot to the Expos. They were the ones who drafted you in the 34th round.
Baseball has gone down in Montreal since the Expos left.
But Canada still beat Team USA in the World Baseball Classic. That had to make you proud.
Yeah. But like true Canadians, we won that big game and then we lost the next one. Too many sodas or cocktails. The Canadian way.
Would you be interested in playing for Canada in the next WBC if the situation arose?
Oh yeah. I'd always represent my country. When you turn 40 you can come back and say I represented Canada - even if it wasn't in hockey.
Maybe you'd even get to meet Fergie Jenkins (the only Canadian in the Baseball Hall of Fame.) Or Celine Dion. Are you a big fan?
I've never been (to her show). I'm going to have to call Eric Gagne and see if he can arrange something. Back home, she's huge. She owns three golf courses.
If she was really big, she'd own three breweries. Like the McKenzie brothers. But besides the snow, skating on the power play and Tim Raines in left field, is there anything else you miss about Montreal?
Poutine? Didn't he center the Nordiques' checking line?
Poutine is French fries, gravy and mozzarella. All the restaurants (in Quebec) would have it. Even McDonald's.
Answer my next question in French. What's your favorite PCL city?
Parlez vous, parlez vous, parlez vous ... la Portland ... parlez vous.
I understood the Portland part. Now that Russell Martin is gone, do you still get to use your French?
(Laughing) Only with the ladies.